Local Columnists

May 22, 2014

Hints of Democratic Party resurgence in GOP-dominated Kansas

The party has struggled to find plausible candidates in past elections. Now, it appears, it’s getting its mojo back in the Sunflower State.

It isn’t easy being a Democrat in Kansas. Republicans hold every statewide office. They hold both U.S. Senate seats and all four U.S. House seats. They have crushing majorities in both chambers of the Kansas Legislature.

In some years, Democrats have failed to even offer candidates for some seats.

So it may come as a surprise that Kansas Democrats appear to be bouncing back. With just days to go before the filing deadline, the party has quietly found plausible candidates for most of the state’s important races this fall.

You know about Paul Davis, running against Gov. Sam Brownback. But Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor is a credible Democrat for the Senate, facing either Milton Wolf or, more likely, Sen. Pat Roberts.

Two Democrats — Jean Schodorf and Randy Rolston — have filed for the secretary of state race. A.J. Kotich, a veteran, is running as a Democrat for Kansas attorney general. Margie Wakefield is a serious opponent for Rep. Lynn Jenkins. Two Democrats want to take on Rep. Tim Huelskamp in the 1st District.

Two years ago, Democrats couldn’t find anyone to oppose Rep. Kevin Yoder in the 3rd District. This week, Kelly Kultala — the likely Democratic nominee in the race — released an internal poll showing her just eight points behind the Republican, with the campaign barely underway.

Yoder’s camp will do its own polling next month.

Are any of these Democrats likely to win? No. Is it possible they’ll win? Perhaps. Kansas Republicans still have enormous advantages in money, registration, incumbency and the national environment.

But a credible opposition is enormously important in Kansas and in any state with one-party rule. Without a counterargument, Kansas Republicans are free to wander to the furthest reaches of conservative ideology, which they’ve done. Similarly, Democrats in Vermont have routed the GOP so thoroughly, one of its senators is a socialist.

Neither situation is healthy.

One-party rule can have darker consequences. Democrats controlled Jefferson City for so long a former House speaker was convicted of bribery. We don’t know what the FBI will find in Topeka as it probes lobbying contracts. But if they look hard enough, they’ll probably find the arrogance single-party control can mean.

In Johnson County, you can find some Republicans secretly rooting for mainstream Democrats to pull the GOP back to the center.

We don’t know if the Democrats’ slate can accomplish that mission, or something more. But it appears we’ll have the chance to find out.

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

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